Mycotoxins, often one of the most neglected considerations in ruminant diets, should be a major animal health and welfare concern in modern animal husbandry, according to one leading researcher and veterinarian.

“Under the conditions of modern agricultural practice, mycotoxin contamination of feed materials cannot entirely be avoided,” said Dr. Johanna Fink-Gremmels, Utrecht University. “It is predicted that at the current level, the prevalence of mycotoxins will increase due to changes in the climate.”

According to Fink-Gremmels, mycotoxins are currently the most prominent feed contaminants worldwide, attributing to a 25 percent decrease in genetic potential in dairy cows and an economic loss globally estimated at several billion annually. Natural toxins produced by diverse fungal species, mycotoxins are increasing in diversity through both pre- and post-harvest contamination.

Total mixed rations can often contain more than one fungal species, contributing to a complex mixture of mycotoxins and unresolved health issues in the herd. According to Fink-Gremmels, the greatest problem for dairy cows is multiple mycotoxin contamination in silage. Dairy producers need to observe cow signals such as reduced feed intake, reproductive disorders, laminitis, mastitis, impaired liver function, poor response to vaccination programs and increased susceptibility to bacterial and viral diseases, which can all be attributed to ingesting mycotoxin contaminated feed.

“The rumen determines health and productivity of the cow. When rumen bacteria are suffering, the liver does not function properly, initiating a cascade of events, instigating a generalised inflammatory response, increase in somatic cell count, reduction in digestibility and ultimately resulting in the loss of production,” Fink-Gremmels said. “Intervention strategies can improve the rumen flora and reduce the bioavailability of mycotoxins.”

According to Pedro Caramona, Alltech Mycotoxin Management team, the above average temperatures and soil moisture deficits in certain parts of Europe leaves concern for mould and mycotoxin issues for this year’s harvest. “Across parts of Southern Spain, Eastern France and Southern Germany, summer crops have been impacted by very high temperatures,” Caramona said. “Soil moisture is already critically low in parts of these regions. Farmers and producers need to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to mycotoxins. Sample your silage and know what your risk is to implement proper management practices. If left unchecked and uncontrolled, contamination even at low levels will cause rumen issues in dairy cows, resulting in the loss of production.”

Farmers and producers should take the necessary management steps upon harvest to help troubleshoot existing issues with contaminated feedstuffs such as: Grain storage drying – dry to 14 percent moisture or less and focus on proper storage management to prevent mould growth.

Silage management - proper packing, covering and silage feed management Ensure the use of a well-established mycotoxin management programme Management strategies that prevent exposure to and ingestion of mycotoxins are the best course of action.